We all had high hopes for the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga, but The Dark Knight Rises failed to live up to the promise of the previous two movies. Sure, it was ambitious and was probably a better movie than most of the summer blockbusters, but it didn’t transcend the character in the way that some of us wanted to see.
One thing that I happened to love about the film, however, was its generous borrowing from the best Batman stories in comics. Sadly, the resemblance wasn’t more pronounced—because, in every case, the source material told the story better than the movie. I know I’ve written columns about the need to divorce yourself from the source material when approaching adaptations, but if the change doesn’t help make the story better, that means it was the wrong choice.
Below, I’ve taken the time to list some Batman comics that worked better than the film version of the story. You should get your hands on these.
Knightfall: When this storyline first hit comic-book stands, it was a media sensation, because it introduced Bane and forcibly removed Bruce Wayne from his role as Batman. Bane uses a prison break at Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum to let loose every one of Batman’s rogues, pushing the hero to his limit, before stepping in and shattering the Bat. Though it’s dripping in the style of the early 1990s, the storytelling is solid and the illustration is colorful.
A Lonely Place of Dying: Shortly after the death of Jason Todd (Robin II) at the hands of The Joker, a young boy named Tim Drake deduces Batman’s identity and comes to him, pleading to take Dick Grayson back as Robin, arguing that Robin is the light needed to balance The Dark Knight. He ends up taking the role himself. Tim is one of my favorite characters in the DC Universe and, perhaps, my favorite Robin.
No Man’s Land: This series is a sprawling epic that sees Gotham shattered by a cataclysmic earthquake. Lex Luthor, seeing an opportunity, uses his lobbying pressure to force the government to shut down the island of Gotham instead of rebuilding it. Lifelong residents refuse to leave, and the entire city becomes a gangland. Gangs are led by heroes like Commissioner Gordon and every sort of criminal from Batman’s rogues gallery. They fight for territory and control of Gotham in Batman’s absence, but Batman’s allies use the symbol of Batman to fight the worst injustices and take back the city. I still contend this would make a fantastic HBO series.
Dark Victory: I often recommend Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, but equally impressive is its sequel from the same team. Dark Victory takes a very grounded approach to the Robin origin story, as well as the vacuum created in Gotham after Batman had disrupted the most notorious of Gotham’s crime families. It truly is a work of art, and should have factored as a heavier influence in Nolan’s Bat-universe.
Gotham Central: Another comic series that would make a fantastic television series, Gotham Central seems to be a normal police procedural, but adds in the element of supervillains and winged vigilantes. Nolan could have learned a lot from the interplay between the cops on the force in this series, instead of giving us the ham-fisted story of the police in his third film.
I will say, all of these comics are fantastic, but may be slightly intimidating for a new reader. If you’re looking to dive into Batman comics in the wake of the movie, dip your toes in with the brand-new Batman: Earth One. It’s a fresh start for the Batman universe, and might prove to be a perfect jumping-on point for comics in general for those interested by the movie.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.